Berlusconi A New Musical (Southwark Playhouse Elephant)

Posted: March 31, 2023 in Theatre

Photo: Nick Rutter

Writers: Ricky Simmonds and Simon Vaughan

Director: James Grieve


After Thatcher, Blair, Trump and others, former Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi becomes the latest larger-than-life political figure to receive the dubious accolade of having a satirical musical devoted to him. The self proclaimed “Jesus Christ of politicians” proves to be a rich source for mockery.

Berlusconi’s vision of himself as a modern day Emperor Tiberius is endorsed by Lucy Osborne’s set design, which resembles a section of an ancient Roman amphitheatre. The “Friends, Romans and countrymen…” speech could have been delivered to the masses from steps such as these. Adversely, the set occasionally restricts movement in director James Grieve’s otherwise rousing production, ably performed by a company of ten and accompanied by a band of five.

The show is entirely sung through, with writers Ricky Simmonds and Simon Vaughan adopting a musical style that could possibly be influenced by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita. As a whole, the songs are remarkably strong and several are near-showstoppers. The wit in the lyrics matches the catchiness of the tunes. However, the songs appear as a succession of stand alone numbers, thereby giving the show the feel of a series of revue sketches, rather than that of a flowing piece of storytelling.

Sebastien Torkia storms the stage as the title character, exuding all the charisma, ruthlessness and arrogance which led to his success and then his downfall. The narrative is framed by Berlusconi’s 2012 trial for tax fraud. He decides to devise an opera (he insists that it is not a musical) to tell his life story and use in his defence. 

Moulded by a strong mother (Susan Fay), the young Berlusconi sets sail as a cruise ship entertainer, before turning to property development and then becoming a media tycoon. He enters politics and eventually becomes Prime Minister of Italy, Throughout, he is mired in controversy and scandal, mostly surrounding his shady business dealings and his serial womanising. Emma Hatton gives a moving performance as Veronica, his long-suffering second wife.

As a satire, the show really takes off at the beginning of the second act. A night club dancing scene demonstrates the thin line between politics and show business and then Berlusconi joins a bare chested Vladimir Putin (Gavin Wilkinson) in a chilling, but hilarious duet which resembles a bizarre courting ritual. This is followed by an equally hilarious sequence in which Berlusconi strides the world stage with the heads of G7 leaders popping up from below him. It all leads to a finale in which, the chorus faces the audience and sings “Be Careful Who You Vote For”. The audience response could well be “Si”.

If Berlusconi… brings little in the way of enlightenment, it compensates in the form of entertainment, offering more than enough highlights to fill an evening. However, the show needs tightening up in many places. It goes on for far too long, in common perhaps with the political career of the man himself.

Performance date: 29 March 2023

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.